Tuesday, December 8, 2009


When people hear I am lay ordained in Zen Buddhism they want to know what that means? People often ask if I am a Zen priest. My usual response is that I am a half-assed one. What Jukai, or lay-ordination is, in the Soto tradition is the ceremony of becoming a Buddhist. At the ordination you receive your rakusu, or mini-robe, you hang around your neck like a bib.

You also recieve your lineage sheet dating back to Buddha and you receive a Dharma name. Mine is Shinzen and it means to 'Trust Zen'. You also receive the precepts of conduct. It is like your oath to lead your life in a certain fashion, like doing good deeds, not getting drunk and having wild sex with sheep...stuff like that.

My time at the Nebraska Zen Center was a time I cherished deeply, even though I am not an overly religious person and have always been suspect of organized religion (my trust issues coming out...my first wife ran off with a Catholic priest...I was sad at first, but in retrospect it was the best thing she ever did for me!)

Well, to get back on track. In my mind I was studying with Nonin Chowaney, head priest at the center and not so much studying Soto Zen as a religion. I trusted him. There was a sense of deep authenticity about him...mostly cause he scared me to death. I swear to this day he can read minds and I felt he could read mine impecably. I was not so much concerned with being a good Buddhist as I was in following the path he laid in front of me to follow. He leads his life with a deep sense of stability and rootedness. I wanted to be like him.

When he brought out the idea of Jukai to me I had to think about it for awhile. After a bit, I thought it would be a great experience and for me the temple felt like a second home, so I agreed. I had to sew my own rakusu...and it had to be done right or you had to redo it. Trust me, there is a lot of sewing of little scraps of cloth and the seams have to be just right....or it gets ripped out and you have to redo it. It is also a bloody experience. I am not so handy with a needle and would often prick my finger. With every stitch we were to say, "I take refuge in the Buddha". I wasn't too good with this cause when I stabbed myself it was "I take refuge in damn it".

During the week of ordination I lived at the temple and lived the life of a priest in training. Actually, I scrubbed a lot of floors, cleaned toilets, washed dishes, sewed and bled a lot. There were two others receiving Jukai with me and it formed a neat bond. Kido (Albert Likei) and I formed the Lincoln Zen Group in Lincoln, Nebraska around 1992....which is still going today. Kido eventually moved to Arizona. Eric (I forgot his Dharma name) went on and become fully ordained. He was from Des Moines, Iowa and was a Tae Kwon Do instructor.

I had plans on becoming a full priest, however, my family obligations brought me back to Wisconsin and I decided to stay a half-assed one instead. In my heart, I am a priest...whatever that really means. Over time, I realized I am drawn to the teachings of Bankei and the lifestyle of Han Shan. I realized I couldn't run a temple unless it was outside and I could wander around...like my mind.

Well, that's all for Jukai. I wrote longer than I had intended. It is snowing quite hard outside and I didn't have Karate class tonight due the inclement weather. Oh...and the photo is the Reverend Nonin Chowaney, Head Priest at the Nebraska Zen Center. Take Care and thanks for reading my monkey droppings.

Hands palm to palm,


  1. "half-assed" :: the middle way ;D

  2. Arigato...I never thought of it that way. Hands palm to palm.

  3. Of course the middle way to me is the way of equilibrium, balance and harmony . . .

    . . . so I guess I'm going to have to give up the sheep as well now!

    Keep shoveling snow Shinzen ;-)